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Columbus City Council Launches Criminal Record-Sealing Initiative

Columbus City Hall
David Holm

Columbus City Council announced Tuesday an effort to help eligible Franklin County residents with criminal records get those records sealed, enabling them to get jobs and move on with their lives. The program is called Opportunity Port.

It's estimated 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. has a criminal record, which can make it hard to get a job, housing, or federal student loans. Experts say record sealing can increase wages by 25%, and reduce a person's chances of re-arrest.

State lawmakers last year voted to expand record sealing eligibility with a new law that went into effect in April.

"A criminal record should not be a life sentence to poverty. But the reality is that any criminal record, no matter how old or minor can elicit a lifetime of collateral consequences by acting as a barrier to employment, a higher education, and overall economic instability," said Columbus City Council's Shayla Favor, chair of the Criminal Justice Committee.

"This is about equity, the creation of an opportunity, and the power of a second chance. As Chair of the Housing Committee, I know that within four and five landlords use background checks currently to screen applications," said Favor.

"The stigma of a criminal record can be a significant, long-lasting barrier to obtaining basic necessities, as well as safe and affordable housing," said Kate McGarvey of Legal Aid Society of Columbus. More than just providing the record sealing, it really is an opportunity for individuals for a second chance."

"It is an opportunity for folks to access a job, to access a better job; it is an opportunity for individuals to get the housing that can be so difficult for them to obtain," said Kyle Strickland, the Senior Legal Analyst at The Ohio State University Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity. Strickland is also a board member for The Ohio Poverty Law Center.

"We know that far too many people have been left behind in systems of poverty and are trapped in systems of inequality. A record makes it even harder to get a job, to be able to get housing, and then we place the blame on people because of the circumstances that they are in. No more. We cannot continue to do that."

Those eligible can take an online survey at opportunityport.org, after which they can select a service provider to help with their record sealing application.

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.